South Carolina, Climate Change, and Floods of Biblical Proportions

October 15, 2015Rachel Landman

The recent flooding in South Carolina has been referred to as a "biblical flooding," the sixth one-in-1,000-years-chance-of-happening flood that has happened in the past five years. This one left 12 people dead and thousands more without power.

This extreme storm occurred shortly before this week’s reading of Parashat Noach, from which the phrase “biblical flooding” comes. In one of the earliest recorded extreme weather events, God warns Noah of the impending flood saying, “For in another seven days I will pour rain upon the earth for 40days and nights and wipe all that exists—all that I have made - off the face of the earth.” (Genesis 7:4).

In this parashah, following immediately after the story of creation, we see the first covenant between human beings and God. At the end of the flood, God says, “Here is the sign I am giving you of the covenant between Me and you, and every living being with you, down to the last generation” (Genesis 9:12). It is important to highlight that this first covenant is not just between God and people, but between God and all living things. This is also the time when God promises, “I am establishing My covenant with you; never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Genesis 9:11).

Because this covenant - this promise to never again let flood waters destroy the earth - is between God and all living creatures, it becomes not just God’s responsibility to protect the earth from flood, but also ours.

The recent emergence of extreme weather events has been linked to climate change. Although single weather events cannot be directly related to climate change, increasing surface temperatures have changed normal weather patterns into extreme weather events, such as flooding from Hurricane Joaquin. With more than two feet of rain in three days, Charleston, S.C., broke daily and monthly records for October rainfall. We are taught in Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah that we must not destroy God’s world, for if we do, there will be no one to repair it. Although God promised to never flood the earth again, our actions can lead to another flood or similar levels of destruction.

Therefore, we must act to be people of the earth and be righteous - just as Noach was ish ha’adamah, man of the earth (Genesis 9:20) and ish tsaddik tamim, a righteous man in his time (Genesis 6:9) - by working to end climate change and protecting all living creatures from its implications. You can do so by urging your representatives to support the Green Climate Fund to help vulnerable populations adapt and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

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